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MT Contractor Gets Prison in Fraud Case

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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A Montana construction company owner with a checkered past will serve more than eight years in federal prison and pay a multimillion-dollar judgment in a fraud case that spans several states.

Jonathan Lee Oliver, also known as Jon Walker, 41, of Missoula, pleaded guilty Feb. 25 to wire fraud, money laundering and structuring bank deposits, according to the FBI’s Salt Lake City Division.

North Dakota Attorney General

Jonathan Lee Oliver, 41, will serve eight years in prison and pay a $6.5 million judgment for defrauding customers.

He was sentenced to 100 months in jail and a monetary judgment of nearly $6.5 million, which represents the forfeiture of substitute assets and corresponds to the money Oliver took from victims, authorities said.

The Crime

In the fall of 2010, Oliver used the fake name Jon Walker to rent an office and warehouse space to begin a construction business called Western Steele Structures Inc., according to documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Racicot.

Oliver entered into contracts worth millions with the victims, who were located primarily in eastern Montana and North Dakota, including an area known as Bakken.

North Dakota Man Camp Project 

An influx of oil workers to western North Dakota has brought an increase in crime, including construction fraud.

In return for payment, Oliver was to build several steel buildings. He completed just one, authorities said.

Rather than build the rest, Oliver used the money to put a down payment on a house and buy several vehicles, two Jet Skis, a luxury motor home, and a diamond engagement ring.

Oliver also told his employees to lie to customers—to tell them to send the next payment because the next phase of construction on their building was complete.

The Punishment

The Montana Standard reported that Oliver was indicted on 96 charges of wire fraud, 17 counts of structuring, seven charges of money laundering, and one count of identity theft.

He pleaded guilty to only one count of wire fraud, one count of structuring, and one count of money laundering in March.

The counts that Oliver pleaded to involve $130,000 he took from one victim and used to buy a brand-new Subaru Tribeca Limited for $33,950. Oliver also withdrew $9,950 in cash from a bank to avoid the bank’s currency transaction reporting requirements, authorities said.

Oliver’s eight-year prison term will be followed by three years of supervised release.

Checkered Past

This isn't Oliver's first run-in with the law.

In 2000, Oliver was convicted in New Hampshire for violating consumer protection laws. In that case, he was convicted of fraud and ordered to repay $625,000 to 1,370 customers who had pre-paid him for heating oil.

He was also fined $100 per customer. He declared bankruptcy four years later.

In 2004, the Oregon Construction Contractors Board began investigating Oliver after receiving complaints from homeowners. He was issued civil penalties that totaled more than $14,000.

In 2007, while living in Portland, OR, Oliver was sentenced to 13 months in jail for two counts of aggravated theft and one count of identify theft in a construction fraud case. He solicited $34,000 from a homeowner and failed to deliver the work he promised, authorities said.. 

He also stole a construction board license number from a valid contractor and used it to solicit business, resulting in the identify theft charge.

Finally, in 2011, Oliver was found living under the fake name Jon Walker in Missoula and was wanted for a probation violation in Oregon. 

In this incident, Oliver led Montana authorities to North Dakota. He then led them on lengthy low-speed chase and brief stand-off before he surrendered. Police found a Glock handgun in his vehicle.

He was issued a cease and desist order in the case.

Project Safe Bakken

The latest prosecution was part of Project Safe Bakken, a cooperative crime-fighting effort by federal and state prosecutors and federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in Montana and North Dakota.

“The Bakken is a ripe environment for fraudulent activity, and Jonathan Lee Oliver saw that,” Michael Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, said in a statement.

“Project Safe Bakken has and will continue to prosecute fraudsters like Oliver, whose greed directly harms citizens seeking to invest and grow their money in legitimate business ventures.”

U.S. Geological Survey

The Bakken refers to the area of Montana and North Dakota where oil industry is booming. Crime has increased substantionally in the area.

Bakken refers to the Bakken Formation, one of the largest contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States. It reaches from Canada into Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The oil boom in the area has brought an influx of workers looking for their fortune. It has also brought organized crime, which has contributed to an increase in arrests and flooded jails, authorities say.


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; Enforcement; Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; Residential Construction

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